On reading ‘Goan Fortune Hunters in E Africa’ in the column ‘Historical Explorations’ by Teotonio R de Souza (Herald June 1, 2012) I had a very strong sensation of discomfort. The coverage given to Bishop Dom Altino Ribeiro de Santana leaves me extremely indignant.
There are some who criticize D Altino’s term at the Diocese of Beira. The columnist states that he (D Altino) was scared and not outspoken enough at the atrocities of the neo-fascist administration under Marcelo Caetano and earlier under Salazar. We understand that D. Altino’s tenure at Beira was limited to ten months. He was appointed on February 19th 1972, and died on February 27th 1973.
The Jose Pedro Castanheira of the ‘Jornal Expresso’ writes: “D. Altino arrived in Beira at the height of the crisis of priests from Macuti and was detained for months without bail, under the watch of a military tribunal. D. Eurico (Dias Nogueira) remembers that his colleague had his first heart attack “in the course of judicial hearings, on the day that he was expected to testify. While he was talking to some people next to the court room during a break, he fell flat to the floor with no support to break the fall, and lost consciousness.”
Recovered, after some days of rest, Dom Altino was able to make his Court deposition - which, added to those of three other bishops, led to the Tribunal (possibly military) acquitting the accused. This, however, was followed by a new campaign of agitation against the two priests, by the same folks who had ‘unleashed the storm’.(Portuguese counterparts of South African Boers). The campaign included a ‘motorcade rally’ the publication in a local paper and the ‘diffusion of anonymous and insulting scripts’. The high point was the explosion of a device (bomb) next to the Bishop’s residence, where the two priests were sheltered.” Why did the columnist in his article make no mention of the prelate’s ill health?
The prevailing tone reminds me of the libel against Pius XII for maintaining silence in the face of Nazi atrocities, culminating in genocidal holocausts. But, that is where the buck stops, and I will not raise a hue and cry in defence of His Holiness. He had at least seven years to act, a further 13 years to justify his position, without any constraints, and, to the best of my knowledge, been in ill health for most of the time. But to what extent is it fair to expect a Goan prelate, who has suffered two heart attacks in ten months, to openly confront and condemn the colonial Government in the face of physical intimidation from Portuguese colonists?
Are we not aware that such intimidation would aggravate the situation, given the contempt which the colonists, aping their role models in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and Verwoerd’s South Africa, had for Goans, whom they labelled as ‘Canecos’? Would he have the same staying power of a white Portuguese prelate?
Incidentally, it was a ‘half caneco’ Maj. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho who spearheaded the toppling of neo-fascism in Portugal. Did Fr. Orlando, the brother, in his talks with the author, only mention the ‘scare’ referred to in the article, but not the intimidation?
Let us not forget that most revolutionary activity in Angola was in the North (e.g.Cabinda). D. Altino’s diocese of Lubango was relatively at peace. So it is possible that in Angola he did not have to live through the experience of charting a course through rough seas. For the record, the Mucumbura massacres took place between May and November 1971, when D. Altino was still in Angola, and months before he was appointed to Beira. The one at Wiriyamu occurred on December 16th , 1972. At this time, D. Altino was in Beira, but Wiriyamu is within the Diocese of Tete. In the absence of firm facts, why can’t we give a fellow Goan the benefit of the doubt?
Nuno Teotonio Pereira in his blog ‘Entre as Brumas da Memoria’ under the subject title ‘Priests and the Dictatorship’, compiling a list of priests actively opposed to the regime, writes: “Also not included in the list are some Bishops whose cases are better known. Among these the most prominent ones are Antonio Ferreira Gomes, Bishop of Porto (expelled and exiled by Salazar), and noteworthy of mention are Sebastiao Soares de Resende, of Beira and Manuel Vieira Pinto, of Nampula , expelled from Moçambique just before the April 25 revolution. Yet again, Altino Ribeiro de Santana, Bishop in Angola”.
I have found two publications from Portuguese University academics. One by Dr. Pedro Ramos Brandão, amply supported by quotations from original files that the secret police PIDE kept on public figures. It reads: “Two Bishops in Moçambique characterized by an attitude of accommodation between the Church and the Portuguese State, avoiding criticism of either, but also avoiding presenting themselves as direct collaborationists of an authoritarian colonialist regime. In this case, we will designate them as ‘neutrals’, that is, they did not criticize the Portuguese colonial policy in public, but neither did they collaborate with the Portuguese authorities in dictatorial and authoritarian actions. They were D. Altino Ribeiro Santana, Bishop of Beira for a very short while, and D. Felix Niza, Bishop of Tete.”
Thus, according to Dr. Brandão, D. Altino was neutral. We could expect that this conclusion was derived after an examination of PIDE files on D. Altino, which is the method he follows. Dr. Brandão is quoted by the columnist as not mentioning a single word about D. Altino. Well, yours truly, an engineer based in New Jersey, could find the preceding text on the Internet, and it is strange that the columnist cannot find a single word on Dom Altino, given that he is a historian based in Lisbon, looking for publications from a fellow historian in Portugal .
The other, a doctoral thesis by Francisco Miguel Gouveia Pinto Proença Garcia, ‘Análise Global De Uma Guerra (Moçambique 1964-1974)’states that “despite the identification of some church leaders such as Card. D. Teodosio Gouveia with the regime, the Church had an important role in denouncing the abuses through some of its Bishops, of which it is imperative to highlight D. Sebastião Soares de Resende, first Bishop of Beira, his successor D. Altino Ribeiro de Santana and D. Manuel Vieira Pinto, of the Diocese of Nampula.”
The one single adverse criticism I found, albeit unsubstantiated, goes as follows: “…D. Altino … who started his term in Sá da Bandeira in 1953 and was transferred to Beira thereafter (he spent 17 years at Sa da Bandeira!). His fidelity to the regime did not merit the co-operation of Portuguese clergymen, more opposed to the colonial regime.” Your guess is as good as mine, as to who is behind this blog ‘Historia – Mestra da Vida’…
I am not sure what the columnist’s intentions are, but if this is a work of historical exploration, it strikes me for its shallowness, lack of logical connectedness and conclusiveness. The article sorely lacks a substantive historical foundation.
By avoiding or failing to describe the context of D. Altino’s tenure in the Beira diocese, the columnist leaves crucial voids. The skimpy selected dotted points, add up to an innuendo, inducing to an indictment of a beloved son of Goa, a slippery slope for the less informed and the gullible.
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